Editorial: Which Social VR Platform Will Be the First to Allow Adult Content?

The Escort Oasis in Second Life

I’ve been doing some thinking lately. Now hear me out on this.

Ebbe Altberg, CEO of Linden Lab, has gone on record that there will never be adult content in Sansar. Not because he’s opposed to it (after all, Second Life makes a not insignificant portion of its profit from the dozens of adult-rated sims on the grid, catering to just about every sexual kink imaginable). In fact, Second Life is so successful at this aspect of the business that it makes it almost impossible for any other adult virtual world to get a financial foothold (link is safe for work).

Ebbe is opposed to adult content from the point of view that he wants Sansar to be a success, a roaring success like Second Life was in its time, and that often means partnerships with other companies. Companies who are understandably very squeamish about associating their brand names with sex and adult content. The United States of America, for all the glorification of violence portrayed in its cultural exports like videogames and movies, is still remarkably puritanical (and frankly, somewhat hypocritical) when it comes to sex.

None of what I call the “Big Five” social VR platforms (or even the top 12, for that matter) allow adult content. Note that here I am talking specifically about general-purpose/multipurpose platforms, not the purely sex-oriented ones like 3DX Chat (all links in this paragraph are safe for work).

But what would happen if one of them decides to break from the pack and allow sexual content? Assuming, of course, that there would be some kind of permissions system in place to lock it down and restrict access to only those adults who want to see and participate in it (like what Second Life already has, but perhaps even more restrictive).

That social VR platform would probably get a huge boost in business, along with a burst of media attention (not all of it positive). And it might just get enough attention to actually become a major player, becoming in effect the next Second Life, with user concurrency figures to match.

It’s a risky gamble, and if it is not handled correctly, it will tarnish the name of whatever social VR platform makes the attempt (much the same as Second Life now has a certain disreputable reputation in some quarters, even though it is certainly possible to use and enjoy SL without ever stepping foot in an adult sim).

But for some company, sick and tired of being the underdog virtual world after pouring untold time and money into building a platform, only to have it ignored, it might be a truly tempting prospect. And it would probably up-end the marketplace.

Then again, perhaps somebody will just go and create a purely adult-oriented social VR platform. We’ve already seen a first attempt to support VR with the adult virtual world Oasis (link is safe for work), but when I tried it, it didn’t work very well at all. Furthermore, it looks like the company is having trouble attracting users (they recently switched from their initial US$20-per-month subscription plan to US$20 for a “lifetime membership”, which indicates a certain level of desperation setting in).

The adult virtual world 3DX Chat also says they support the Oculus Rift VR headset on their website, but I can’t be bothered to try it, so I have no idea how well it works. As I have said before:

…I want to make it clear that I am not going to get into the habit of covering adult/sex-based virtual worlds. There are literally dozens of them out there, and frankly, I find them boring as hell.

So, what do you think? Which social VR company do you think will take the plunge into adult content? Or do you think a new, adults-only company will capture the market instead? Please feel free to leave a comment on this blogpost, or join the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, where nearly 200 members are ready and willing to discuss and debate these and many other issues around social VR and virtual worlds!

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Intolerance and Social Media

Today I had to ban the first troll from the official RyanSchultz.com Discord server, for posting racist and homophobic statements and then denying she had said anything wrong (i.e. gaslighting). I am getting truly fed up with the amount of hate and prejudice I am beginning to see on most social media, and I will not hesitate to pull out the banhammer if I see it erupt on my Discord. This person was banned and all her posts deleted.

My rules for the RyanSchultz.com Discord include the following statement which I essentially lifted verbatim from Linden Lab:

Intolerance: This server encourages social interactions between users across multiple countries. The use of derogatory or demeaning language or images based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation is prohibited. Actions that marginalize, belittle, or defame users or groups are similarly prohibited. Hate speech of any kind is prohibited.

I have frankly had enough of the toxic stew that many social media platforms have become. I have left Facebook, and Google+ will soon shut down. I have, for own sanity, blocked Donald Trump on Twitter, and I am spending a lot less time there (although I do still cross-post my blogposts there, and I will continue to do so). I feel like taking a good, long vacation from all social media, except my blog and my Discord. I may just do that.

I think we all need to stop and think hard about this monster we have all had a part in creating and sustaining, and what kind of negative impact it is having on society. Some people feel they now have a platform to spread misinformation, lies, and hatred with impunity, and we must all do our part to stand up, call them on their bullshit, and put a stop to it.

Does Facebook/Oculus Need to Get Its Act Together On Social VR? A Thread on Reddit

As most of you already know, I quit Facebook as my New Year’s resolution, and I am still quite happy with my decision.

One of the places where I have spent more time since leaving Facebook has been Reddit, which is home to many thriving communities such as the Oculus subReddit, with over 140,000 subscribers who discuss and debate various issues related to Oculus VR hardware and software. (Sometimes I cross-post one of my blogposts there.)

Mark Zuckerberg presents the Oculus lineup (image taken from The Ghost Howls blog)

Yesterday, someone posted a lengthy item titled Opinion: Oculus needs to get its sh*t together in social, which I have only quoted in part (so please go over there and read the whole thing):

First, it’s ridiculous that cross-communication between the Go and Rift communities is so difficult, especially with Quest coming. VR social presence should be an underlying infrastructure that the whole Oculus ecosystem can plug into… Oculus: don’t split the VR community simply because of which of your own platforms they buy. Make communication easy, automatic, and built in.

Second, where the hell is the metaverse/Oasis/shared world? I know, VR Chat, AltspaceVR, Rec Room, High Fidelity, etc. …but why has Oculus–let alone Facebook!–abdicated this whole sector to third parties?

Now, this poster has raised a valid point. Why is social VR across all the Oculus hardware such a disorganized mess? Currently, Facebook offers Oculus Rooms for the Oculus Go users and Facebook Spaces for Oculus Rift users. Is Facebook going to use the release of the Oculus Quest (which I predict will be popular) to try and clean up this situation?

Some of the comments to this poster are worth quoting (again, I am going to take it easy with the quoting, taking into account the feedback I have recently received). I did go in and write a lengthy response, outlining the situation as I see it, and pointing out that there were already many social VR platforms which have been in development for several years (Sansar, High Fidelity, Sinespace, etc.).

When I said that High Fidelity and VRChat were planning to support the upcoming standalone Oculus Quest VR headset, one person responded:

Sadly, I don’t think VRChat’s gonna support Quest. It’s just not compatible with mobile CPUs. Hell, it brings modern up-to-date PC’s to a standstill with too many people. I very much doubt the Snapdragon 835 can handle all the custom shaders, avatars, IK, etc. The team would basically need to do a full rewrite. And that’s unlikely unless the team was way bigger.

Someone else said:

Do you really WANT Facebook also own the social VR “metaverse”? That seems like a really terrible idea in general to have a monopoly control so many things. Especially one that has proven dozens of times that they could care less about our privacy in respect to their profits…

I for one HOPE Oculus fails WILDLY on social VR. The alternative would be the worst-case dystopian future for VR and likely disasterous for humanity as a whole in the long-term.

To which I say, Amen and Hallelujah. However, Facebook has the deep pockets (lots of money) and the hardware (Oculus) to totally up-end the current, nascent social VR market, if they finally get their act together and choose to do so.

And finally, one person said:

To me it comes down to this—people want Second Life in VR format. It’s true. A metaverse where you can build or be anything you want…but in VR. We know that SL’s infrastructure cannot be upgraded to do that. High Fidelity, even with the founder of SL, isn’t cutting it. And neither is Sansar, Linden Lab’s actual VR offering.

I believe there are two main issues impeding them. 1. Instances – every platform nowadays does instance based “world” creation. Worlds are not permanent, player join numbers are limited, and the worlds are not visually connected to each other. People want permanence! To be able to wander from one place to the next aimlessly. This isn’t just an issue limited to VR of course (hello WoW). The reasoning behind this is that it’s much easier on the server hardware. Personally, I’d deal with some lag to be able to participate in a true open world environment. And

2. Adult content – All of the platforms are scared as f*** here. They don’t want their brand to be ‘marked’ by that, they don’t want to have to figure out how to police it, etc etc. That stuff is not going away. Whether they admit it or not, adult content has kept Second Life alive and thriving for 15 years (they still have ~50k concurrent users). Bottom line—deal with it. Embrace it. It’s going to happen with or without you.

This wide-ranging and fascinating discussion is the kind of thing that Reddit has become well-known for, and I would encourage you to go over there and read all or most of it for yourself, and perhaps add your own comments.

Editorial: Linden Lab’s New Sansar Dollar Conversion Policy Penalizes Musical Performers and Other People Who Receive Tips in Sansar

sam-truong-dan-627874-unsplash
Photo by Sam Truong Dan on Unsplash

Yesterday, Linden Lab finally relaunched their Sansar Dollar Conversion page since their shift away from the SandeX, as part of their launch of Sansar on Steam. However, there are a few new stipulations that people need to be aware of before they try to cash out their Sansar dollars:

Today’s the day. Our Sansar Dollar Conversion page is officially live!

What this means, in a nutshell: creators like you can once again convert their Earned Sansar dollars into US dollars.

How this differs from our old Sandex system:

  • Earned Sansar dollars represent the Sansar dollars you’ve made from selling items in the Sansar Store. Only Earned Sansar dollars are eligible to be converted into US dollars. Earned Sansar dollars can be converted into USD here.
  • Sansar dollars that were bought, received as a gift, or received through a promotion do not count as Earned Sansar dollars. As an exception, any Sansar dollars you have before today have been automatically converted into Earned Sansar dollars, regardless of how you acquired them.
  • When spending or gifting Sansar dollars in Sansar, you automatically draw from non-earned dollars first before spending any Earned Sansar dollars. This is to maximize the amount of Sansar dollars eligible for conversion when the time comes.
  • As stated in our December blog, the conversion rate from S$ to USD will be S$250:$1. Anyone who has created their Sansar account before December 31, 2018 will receive a legacy conversion rate of S$143 to $1 until December 31, 2019, after which the conversion rate for all accounts will be S$250 to $1.
  • We’ve also re-enabled the Process Credit page to allow you to initiate moving USD to your PayPal account. Please allow up to 30 days to complete a request.

One thing that strikes me immediately is that this new policy unfairly penalizes musical performers and other people who receive tips or gratuities in Sansar dollars from audience members. From now on, income received as a gift does NOT count as “earned Sansar dollars”, and will not be able to be cashed out as U.S. dollars. I think that this is a short-sighted decision on Linden Lab’s part, which might negatively impact the use of the platform by musical performers and other entertainers.

Also short-sighted is the decision that Sansar dollars “received through a promotion” would no longer be eligible to be exchanged into U.S. dollars. This means that, from now on, any contest prizes of Sansar dollars can no longer be cashed out of the system.

On a more positive note, it does look as though people will now be able to move their earned U.S. dollars to their PayPal accounts, which is something that many people have long been waiting for. However, it’s not clear whether or not non-Steam users will be able to buy Sansar dollars via their PayPal accounts, or if they are still restricted to credit cards (from what I understand, Sansar users who downloaded the client from Steam are able to use PayPal to buy Sansar dollars using their Steam wallet).

What do you think? Please feel free to leave a comment on this blogpost, or join the RyanSchultz.com Discord and voice your opinion there.